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The Ontario Progressive Conservatives' new campaign TV ad features party leader Tim Hudak lamenting that in Ontario, "There are one million people out of work." It's a big number, and it aligns neatly with Mr. Hudak's "Million Jobs Plan" campaign platform. It's also a number that's a bit tricky to ferret out of Statistics Canada's official labour statistics.

Officially, Ontario had 550,000 people unemployed in April – only a little more than half of Mr. Hudak's number. But a spokesperson for the PC campaign explained to me that the one-million-out-of-work estimate was derived from the labour force participation rate – the number that tells us what proportion of the working-age population is actually either employed or seeking work. It has been well-documented that participation, not just in Ontario but throughout Canada and the United States, has fallen dramatically since the Great Recession, and has remained at historic lows despite the recovery in job creation – presumably because a large number of people have given up looking for work.

Ontario's participation rate in April was 65.6 per cent. If it had been 69.2 per cent, its 2008 high shortly before the recession hit (although that figure itself was unusually high), that would imply that on top of the 550,000 official unemployed, another 404,000 Ontarians had removed themselves from the work force who in pre-recession times would have been active participants. Add those to the official unemployed number, and you get 954,000 – indeed, close to Mr. Hudak's assertion. If the participation rate was closer to the norm in the decade preceding the recession, about 68 per cent, then you'd come up with 819,000.

However, this assumes that the decline in labour force participation entirely reflects people who want – and are able to – to work, but have abandoned hope. Certainly some of those people have left the work force reflect the higher rate of retirement in recent years (the population is, after all, aging), or merely through choice (a preference to stay at home with the kids, to attend university, etc.).

Statscan does have more detailed data that shed light on this issue. In April, its monthly Labour Force Survey identified 201,000 Ontarians who were out of the labour force yet wanted to work. The vast bulk of these were not officially "discouraged" workers (i.e. those who identified themselves in Statscan's monthly Labour Force Survey as both available and wanting to work, but not bothering to look because they were convinced there were no jobs for them) – those numbered a tiny 7,800. But for whatever other reason (the big ones were going to school, illness, personal/family responsibilities), they would like to be working but aren't actively looking. Add those to the unemployed (those who are available for work and are looking), and you get just over 751,000 Ontarians who you could say are "out of work" – nearly a quarter-million short of Mr. Hudak's number.

Of course, neither this analysis nor the PC estimate get into those who would like to be working full-time but are only working part-time; Statscan says there are 416,000 of these underemployed workers in Ontario. That's a different question – but certainly a good one when talking about the labour market, and what needs fixing, in Ontario.